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Need to Know

Depression Strikes Older Women More Often Than Men

A new study shows that older women are more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression and remain depressed for longer than men.

Depression in the elder is a disease that causes older adults to feel sad, lose interest in activities, withdraw from others, and have little energy. It’s different from normal feelings of sadness or grief that an elderly person might feel.

Depression in elderly people often goes untreated because many people think that depression is a normal part of aging and a natural reaction to chronic illness.

Elderly people are at a heightened risk of getting depression because of the changes to their personal well-being and the losses they might face.

Depression is known to be more common among women than men in the later years, but the reasons for this gender imbalance have been unclear, Dr. Lisa C. Barry from the Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues explain. To investigate, they followed 754 men and women 70 and older for seven years, checking on their mental health every 18 months. At each evaluation point, the researchers found, that the women were more likely than the men to have transitioned from a non-depressed to a depressed state.

Overall, women were about twice as likely as men to become depressed, while they were 73 percent less likely to transition from being depressed to being non-depressed. And depressed women were 73 percent less likely to die during the study’s follow-up than their male peers. Another factor why elderly women are more depressed than men is because the stresses of maintaining relationships or caring for an ill loved one and children also typically fall more heavily on women, which could contribute to higher rates of depression. Unmarried and widowed individuals who are elderly as well as those who lack a supportive social network also have elevated rates of depression.

Fortunately, the treatment prognosis for depression in the elderly is good. Once properly diagnosed, 80 percent of clinically depressed individuals can be effectively treated by medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or any combination of the three. Medications can be beneficial for elderly individuals in treating the symptoms of depression. Medications are frequently combined with supportive psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to improve their effectiveness. Also, with the elderly, having peer interaction and activities is very important to the success and overcoming depression in elderly women.

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